This recount comes from a recent round trip to Croatia through Italy and encompasses the Brion Tomb, the Castelvecchio and the Banca di Populaire di Verona, although this final one I didn’t get a chance to look a properly. I have written it as a sequence of personal stories as it was a personal experience, in a chronological order so that they might feed into each other as they happened.
The first stop was the Brion Tomb, the private cemetery that hugs the public on the outskirts of the loose village of Santa Lucia, surrounded by fields with an avenue of mature trees. There were public signs to the Brion – an early indication of the way this private necropolis is revered as a public work of significant cultural distinction. Past the concrete bastions formed by the perimeter wall tapering in, I entered via the direct route from parking, rather than (what I supposed to be) the ‘main’ entrance off the public cemetery enclosure, to a feeling of dumbfounded awe. I couldn’t take any photos, nor sketch in favour of my eye’s greed in consuming all.
From the shallow pools on the left, a Japanese motif and medieval moat in one, showing that ever-present stepped detailed that snakes orthogonally from wall to floor, edge to foundation, underwater to top corbel, the single-story mass of the chapel sat. It was a mysterious block, entered via a mysterious opening in the hard concrete wall. The shape of the opening looked almost kinetic, as if these slabs and blocks linked to some unseen mechanism that would pull away to open further doorways in the façade. It fact this was a constant theme throughout – the impending sense of dynamic tension that fed either implied or actual movement. I could not be sure what moved and what was fixed until you tried to push or pull. Very quickly I began to touch the building with greater intimacy, prodding details, opening pivott’d doors and unlocking bolts. The low wall to the right of this entrance, a squat but deep wall that divided off the garden behind, opened to the touch as a large block, hinged on a series of intricately-welded and inset bronze work, hinged towards me, the locking mechanism doubling to lock open or closed; such a complex detail for something so simple. It was not so much the level of detail but the level of thought – everything wove and danced together in a well-choreographed piece.
After taking so long to enter the building, I thought I must crack on, I had a lot to see. I would now rush through and then make another pass in greater detail to make sure I knew the extent of the tomb. This was an aspiration. I could not rush through with any rapidity: the intense volumes, forms, details, contrasts, mechanisms, landscapes all combined into a place beyond time and space. Abstract dimensions – blocks that cantilevered improbably – turned into complex practicality, each made with a level of detail that drew the eye in so that I found myself barely an inch from the surface of each wall, object and screw. I was a forensic archaeologist trying to eke out the mysteries of every aggregate, to reason each indent in location and form, to understand the thought – this great hidden mind that conducted a space with such ferocious intensity that it burned the soul, rendering me a bemused, ecstatic and chasen’d viewer. The long corridor leading from the chapel – not ‘long’ but made to feel so by the high ceiling and narrow proportion of the walls, punctuated by tall slits in the garden-facing wall – led to the garden at the corner where the Brion site clove to the public cemetery. Here you were presented with choices: to go straight ahead, up the 5 alternating treads set into the raised garden to the low arching cover of the tombs of Guiseppe and Onoaina Brion; left, through a sunken route to a large rhomboidal roof covering tombs of various other Brions; or, right, towards another corridor and building mass that I later found out was the ‘front’ entrance from the public cemetery. I chose to turn left, towards this mysterious mass, roof of concrete sloping down to greet me as if some massive domesticated beast had been taught. This mass was a fascia that shaded the tombs and opened up to a high-vaulted ceiling, broken into two by a tall ridge beam with a long light well to one side. It gave the appearance of being separate to the plinth on which it sat, a feeling confused by the angled shadow gap seen externally. It felt like this mass – a massive though hollow block – had been made separately and craned on. But such an undertaking would have required a level of constructional skill to make sure things lined up that I’m not sure I believe it. The balance of weight and the sense of dynamic movement it inspired, could be summed up by the small notch detail under the ridge beam, emphasized by a simple single step and inlaid bronze, whilst the shadow of the soffit played down the inset black stone, divided by concrete lines.
In writing this it is hard not to be overwhelmed a second time by the enormity of trying to relate all sights seen and their consequent thoughts. I will continue later on…